Once upon a time there was a little girl not lost. Taking a bus back to grandma’s house in Seattle, she went into her typical daydream, scatterbrained persona and missed the stop. Arriving finally at the bus station, the child knew it was just a matter of getting on the next bus to 65th street and back tracking to the correct stop. Unfortunately the step down was blocked by the bus driver, who was apparently concerned for a child that seemed lost. ” But I know what to do. I will just get on a bus going back. I just missed my stop!” No pleading moved his bulk, which was eventually replaced by a blue uniform that was determined to see the child to her rightful destination! Oh, the embarrassment. I spent the entire trip hunched down in the back seat, hoping no one would see me! I rode those buses every Thursday to and from my acting job at a local radio station, and was humiliated that the two men would not believe me and let me solve my own problem. This was my first encounter with our force in blue, and while he was kind and trying hard to be helpful, he was also very professional, and to a small child intimidating.
The next encounter happened around fifteen years later, when my (then) husband and I moved to Redding, California. We stopped at a gas station to feed our elderly jalopy when two cops walked over and asked us for the car’s registration. Apparently our vehicle looked like a stolen car they were attempting to locate. It was a “puzzlement”! Who in the world would steal an aging, shabby car like ours? After they checked our registration and noted our place of origin we were free to go, laughing about the whole incident.
Our most humorous interaction with our “boys in blue” happened in Monterey, where we had become regulars shooting arrows at targets tucked into niches along a mountainside trail. We had become quite friendly with the cop who occasionally came
by the archery range to check on things. This particular morning he welcomed us, began a conversation, and …looking at my balloon belly…said ” aren’t you due pretty soon?” I laughed, and replied “today, actually”. Suddenly he had the look of a startled deer, glanced at his police car, and said “I’m getting a call.” Two seconds later he was in the vehicle and rolling out to the road!
When my husband returned from his stint in the Army we located a small cottage on a hill in Redding, California. One night, shortly after we moved in, driving home we were stopped by a sheriff. It turned out he did not recognize our car (at that point a restored Jaguar), and was just checking on our business in that area so late at night. Upon our explanation we were welcomed and sent on our way.
Many years later I had a lady cop pull me over after I negotiated a turn. It happened to be in front of my daughter’s office, lucky me! I turned to the officer and..again, scatterbrained…”Didn’t I stop at the sign? I thought I did?” She, with reason, had a nice chuckle at that and stated “you stopped just fine, but your registration is past date.” That was merely a matter of digging in the glove compartment and pulling out the sticker we had neglected to attach to the license plate. She very nicely requested that I attach it while she watched! I still remember the long pigtail down her back and her kindness, good cop.
It sort of deteriorated from there to some extent. There was the cop that was called one evening when we were returning from a very heavy day and were dead tired. Attempting to leave the parking lot in a small shopping center, we had the temerity to honk at a car that had been sitting in front of us, blocking all passage, for at least 5 minutes. Suddenly the driver came running to our window shaking his fist, beating on our hood, and shouting incoherently. When the cop arrived he questioned the driver, then gave us a lecture on how we had to have patience, the poor man was really tired, he had been working all day, had to pick his wife up at the airport, had to stop at the store, and all he wanted to do was to get home. Apparently that made it okay to do what I thought was illegal, blocking traffic, instead of parking in a space. Never mind that we had been all day in the hot sun at a horse show, and were also tired, also wanting to get home. But one man out weighs two women every time.
Then there was the cop who stopped us for speeding after another car had zipped past at high speed and then cruised in front, pulling over as the cop also stopped him. After a short discussion he was allowed to leave while the highway patrolman came back to us in order to write a ticket. Two witnesses could attest we were going the speed limit. No matter, ticket given. Again, a car full of women!
Then came our sad loss of a friend, but a victory over a potential bully…good cop, bad cop. A young friend we had known for years left her dysfunctional family to stay with us when she was 16. We were working on getting her legally independent from her family, when she was picked up by the police while visiting some friends. Two cops brought her to our door and demanded to come into the apartment in a rather preemptively and bullish tone. We were prepared…I simply asked quietly, do you have a warrant? Of course they didn’t, and I denied them entry. The cop who had made the demand looked a bit taken aback, was turned around by the other cop, and as they walked away we could hear cop #1 asking cop #2 “Can they do that?” and the reply, “yes, they can”. When cop #2 brought the young lady back, asking if she could get her coat, of course we said yes. After she came in he asked, very politely, if I minded if he also came in. We had made our point, and there was no reason to keep him out, so of course he could come in and watch us say goodbye to our friend. That experience was a precursor, in my mind, of what could happen if you have inexperienced, poorly trained or bully types on the police force.
Our last meeting with a police person was years later after we came home to a broken door, its window shattered, and our small home in shambles. Our first concern was for our two dogs who lived in my bedroom in our absence. That room was still closed, and the interior untouched, probably because the dogs who were obviously upset when we let them out. We lost all of my mothers vintage costume jewelry, my teen age costume jewelry, and the costume jewelry my daughter was given by her paternal grandmother. Hardly a fortune, but memories of loved ones long gone. The policewoman was kind, but honest about the improbability of ever retrieving any of the items, or discovering who was responsible. It was left for us to board up our broken door and move to a motel that night, with our two dogs, to digest the trauma and loss.
Cops come in every size, shape, ethnicity, color, gender, and, unfortunately, attitude. Yes, I am “white”. In other words my background blends Germanic, British and who knows what else…so far in the past it little matters. Would the outcomes have been different if I had been black, brown or any other color, given I reacted to them in the exact, same way? In some instances, probably. However my impression of the child protector was: he wanted to keep children safe. I cannot picture either of the ladies being any different. For one, the first lady cop found far too much amusement in my reaction. Cop #1 would have been fine, he was intent on following the law in a University town making it’s own attempts toward diversity. Cop #2, however, had all the signs of a bully personality, and it would not surprise me if he used his power against any vulnerable person given the opportunity. The police personalities who favor a man’s story, however weak, over women who are trying to follow the law, are problematic to say the least. Again, vulnerable citizens can be targets.
Most of my experiences occurred many decades ago, when cops actually did wear blue uniforms, identity badges, and generally kept their guns holstered unless absolutely necessary. Cops were trained to be part of the community, at least in most of the places I inhabited. It has been obvious to myself and my daughter that police training has deteriorated, and the fear factor (cops afraid of “us”, the citizenry) has risen exponentially. A friend recently relayed a story in which she called to an officer standing beside his car. He turned on this white woman, clad in business attire, gun at the ready. All she had done was call, “Officer! Officer!” Such fear of an ordinary citizen trying to get their attention shows a systemic problem that only requires some bias to create the horrific outcomes we’ve been witnessing all too often.
The irony is that, according to the last stats I have seen, police work is not even in the top twenty most dangerous jobs. It is a given that police work can be hard, discouraging, and occasionally dangerous (the same can be said for many other jobs, especially at this moment). I truly appreciate an empathetic, kind, knowledgeable, professional police person. I do not appreciate police unions that protect and deny culpability of those who abuse the power our citizenry has granted them. My hope is that our country will see the light, have really good, standardized training across the states, and the ability, written into the contracts, to let anyone go who abuses their position. Power corrupts, unless it is held to a higher purpose by a greater power…in this case, the citizens of our troubled country. The decision to take a life is the ultimate power, and a badge should not equal a license to kill.
Stay safe, keep your mask on and wash your hands!